The term means, in it simplest denotation, pertaining to the evangel, which is the Christian gospel, or good news, that God redeems sinful humanity through His son, Jesus Christ. Evangelicals have stressed that people find salvation only through personal faith in Christ's atoning death and through the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit. They find these views to be the central theme of the Bible, which they hold to be divinely inspired and the ultimate authority for their Christian faith and practice The label "Evangelical" also denotes these Christians' commitment to proclaim this gospel to others by word and deed. 1
Variations time and place have nuanced the term's meaning and usage, and loaded it with much historic freight. The "Evangelical" label was first used by the churches of the Lutheran Reformation in the sixteenth century, but it gained wider currency during the widespread revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when "Evangelical" became the common label for movements of spiritual renewal and evangelistic outreach within Protestantism. This generic understanding of "Evangelical" also makes it an appropriate label for contemporary Biblicist and charismatic movements within the Roman Catholic Church.
In late twentieth-century usage, "Evangelical" also frequently connotes "conservative," in that the Evangelical movements and traditions have opposed theological li...
Evangelical Christianity also has made rapid strides outside of the North Atlantic region, especially in the past twenty-five years. Religious statisticians claim that half of the world's Evangelicals now reside in the so-called Third World, and they project that by the year 2000, three-fourths will be from these regions. In Africa, for example, conversions and church-planting are projected to give that continent more Christians than North America by the turn of the next century. In parts of East Asia as well, notably in China and Indonesia, Evangelicals account for most of the recent dynamism Christianity has shown. In Latin America, where conversion to Evangelical Christianity outpaces the birthrate, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing alternative to traditional Roman Catholicism. Even in Europe, where the Christian inheritance of the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the pietist/evangelical revivals of prior centuries has waned very rapidly, fresh renewal movements have begun and are struggling against the secular tide.
Because of these worldwide trends, students of religion have been scrambling to understand the history, character, and current thrust of the varied family of movements and traditions known as Evangelicalism. In the United States, where Evangelical revivalism was the dominant religious persuasion in the nineteenth century, a harvest of scholarship on religion in the Early Republic has appeared in the last twenty years, and it has underscored an important message: to know American Evangelicals is to know a great deal about the heart and soul of nineteenth-century America. 2
Thereafter, Evangelical Christianity began to lose its cultural dominance in the United States, and it